Tag Archives: schooling

The Omaha Schools Foundation

November 25, 2014 by and
Photography by The Omaha Schools Foundation

The Omaha Schools Foundation had humble beginnings, operates without many high-profile, big-dollar supporters, and generally stays below the radar of most Omahans. That said, there are few, if any, non-profits in the state that have such a sterling reputation for the work they do.

Now, the Omaha Schools Foundation has earned its most impressive honor to date, ranking third out of the 100 largest school district foundations in the country in “Stepping Up: The Top K-12 Educations Foundations in the Nation.” One key factor in the ranking: The Omaha Schools Foundation, with $28.3 million in total assets, had the fourth-highest revenue of foundations nationwide. Considering OPS is the 98th largest district in the country, “the Foundation is doing an amazing job,” according to Dewey Caruthers, president of Dewey & Associates and author of the study.

“Since the 1990s, the Foundation has grown exponentially in terms of financial responsibilities, endowments, scholarships, classroom grants for students, and Kid’s Club,” says Toba Cohen-Dunning, the Foundation’s executive director. “The growth of OSF is a result of leadership, staff, and thousands of generous donors who have said very clearly what an impact OPS has had on their children and families.”

The Foundation was started in 1984 with a gift of $1,155 from a group of OPS administrators. Indeed, much of the donor base is made up of OPS alumni and teachers who have left money for the Foundation in their wills, Cohen-Dunning says. In the beginning, the Foundation had a modest purview. For example, it ran Kids Club, a parent-pay before and after-school program, in two OPS elementary schools. Now, Kids Club operates in 42 schools, with the addition of five more pre-Kindergarten programs.

The Dewey & Associates study looked at several other criteria, Caruthers says, long-term sustainability through assets and investments and the size and breadth of grant programs funded by the foundations. The Omaha Schools Foundation excelled in all eight categories judged. Of particular note for a Foundation in a smaller school district: Last year, OSF gave out $390,000 in scholarship dollars to district seniors.


More than the ABCs

August 19, 2014 by and

Little 5-year-old Emma already knows her ABCs. Well, most of them.  And she can count to five.  Sometimes all the way to seven.

But is she really ready for kindergarten?

Academic ability is only one indicator of whether a child is ready to make the transition from preschool into a kindergarten classroom.

“Research shows that academic learning does not happen in the absence of social and emotional development,” says Megan Jones, Mental Health Therapist.  “A child’s brain simply doesn’t take in information without the ability to cope with the environment and handle the stressors that are involved in everyday life.”

In other words, if by the age of five, a child has not learned to sit quietly without running all over a room, or know how to handle another child hurting their feelings without completely melting down and losing control—he or she will struggle.  To absorb spelling and math lessons, he needs to be able to calmly move from one task to another or even from naptime to lunchtime without stress.

Behavior problems in young children can be addressed, and it’s crucial that parents act as soon as possible.  In fact, the younger the child, the more easily and quickly the issues can be corrected. Experts have found that, depending on the child’s history, something as simple as changing a bedtime routine or redirecting playtime activities can provide insight and solutions to a child’s behavioral needs. Children who have witnessed or experienced trauma, however, may require more extensive therapy.

Fortunately, our little Emma has developed the social and emotional tools she will need—friendship skills, coping skills, problem solving, and how to recognize and label emotions: “I’m angry.” “I’m sad today.” “I’m having a happy day.”  These powerful tools will allow her to face her kindergarten classroom calmly, with confidence, and destined for success.

If you think your child may need early childhood behavioral therapy, please contact Lutheran Family Services (LFS) at 402-661-7100.  If childhood sexual abuse is of concern, LFS also shares building space and is a partner agency with Project Harmony.  This allows the best integration of services for area children.


The Big Leap

August 5, 2014 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

By the time most kids get to high school, they are familiar with how school works. They know how to maneuver through an eight-period day, how different teachers have different expectations, and how to get along with all kinds of people. But what happens when the child enters high school never having attended a traditional school? What if, for the previous eight years, your school was your home?

Kathy Bessmer has homeschooled 14 of her 16 children (that’s not a typo) through eighth grade. (Her youngest two are not yet school age). By the time her children are ready to enter high school, she argues, they each have had a well-rounded social experience. What can be tough, though, is making sure the academic transition goes as smoothly as possible.

“It was a little bit of an adjustment for their first semester of their freshman year,” says Bessmer. “They were very accustomed to my teaching and expectations, so they knew what to expect from me and what I expected of them. They kind of had to learn about what other teachers’ expectations were.”

Mary Lincoln, a school counselor with Lewis and Clark Middle School, explains that, like the Bessmers, children that have social connections outside the home will make the shift to public school smoother.

“For parents who homeschool—what I call the ‘right way’—meaning they have their kids involved in sports, music, something that get’s them out in a social situation—it’s a much easier transition because the kids have the social skills.” Lincoln says parents don’t always consider the social aspect of homeschooling. But it is a big deal.

“If the kids aren’t socialized, they don’t know appropriate responses,” she explains. “They don’t know how to read body language and non-verbals.” Homeschooled children often may not have the same exposure to different cultures and lifestyles as children in the school system do. “They haven’t been around girls wearing hijabs or people who look different than they look,” says Lincoln. “So it’s different and they don’t know how to interact.”

Even the structure of a traditional school day can be strange and overwhelming. “I think some [people] are not familiar with how school works: being on an eight period day; that each teacher may have a different approach to something or a different way to handle a situation. Or having pretty solid deadlines that maybe they’ve never had before.”

Knowing who to go to in the school to answer questions and help resolve issues is important for any child, Lincoln says.

Helping formerly homeschooled students learn their new role in the public school can be an adjustment. Also, Lincoln says it can be difficult for these new students to know when to seek help and from whom in certain social situations. “It’s important not to wait too long, until the situation gets out of hand.”

More and more parents are choosing to educate their children at home. There are still a wide variety of reasons for doing so. Lincoln explains that some parents, knowing their own children best, can push their children a little harder than teachers in the public schools, allowing them to excel at a quicker rate. Others may choose to shield their children from certain aspects of today’s fast-paced society. Some parents want that familial closeness that homeschooling brings. Others may consider homeschooling a way to protect a sensitive or special needs child from being bullied or being lost in the crowd. Whatever the reasons, homeschooling is becoming more and more mainstream.

“There are a lot of good connections for homeschooling parents in Omaha and people are making these connections.” Lincoln says.